How many local entrepreneurs can say they run a successful web marketing company as well as a non-profit aimed at helping the underserved with emergency home repairs? Chris Manley can. He is the executive director of Rebuild Upstate (that non-profit we mentioned) as well as the CEO of Engenius (that web marketing company).
In the past few years, Manley has been named a Greenville Chamber Young Professional of the Year, GHS Medical Scholar, a member of Leadership Greenville Class 39, an S.C. Young Entrepreneur of the Year, a Community Service Award Finalist, one of Greenville’s Best & Brightest Class under age 35 and much more.
On top of that, he answered some of our Least Asked Questions this week:
A lot of entrepreneurs get caught up in the worrying about things like logos. What is your best advice for them to be really worrying about?
Your first priority when starting your company should be about getting out there and selling. It's easy to get caught up in hypothesizing what your customer base will respond to, how you should best market, or what your brand should look like. Selling has to come first. It leads to two vital things: first, revenue. If you don't have cash, you don't have a business. Second: when you interact with potential customers, you learn what they really want, which then leads you to have a product or service worth buying. Let your customers guide you; you'll thank them for it later!
What is the worst bill you got that you weren’t expecting?
Outside of taxes? That one gets you every time. At the end of the year when you add everything up and get your December financials, you celebrate that you made money! Then three months later your accountant calls... it's not fun, but better than the alternative.
When things get tough in business, who do you turn to for support?
Friends and family are a vital support network. They help inspire me and keep me grounded. One of the best support groups, though, are mentors. Many of my mentors have been in my seat before. They've lived it. So they can offer some consolation, but also reassure me that there's light at the end of the tunnel. Greenville is a great city for mentors; so many business leaders are willing to invest in young entrepreneurs. I wouldn't be where I am today without them.
Who was your first hire? Why?
When we first got started, there were two of us. For a few years, we were enough. But gradually the workload became more than we could handle and we brought on our first employee to take things off my plate so I could focus on getting out and selling, as well as checking-in on our existing clients. The details of individual projects weren't my strong suit, so we made sure that was a skill of our first hire. It worked well - and ever since, my goal has been to hire people to do the jobs I don't do well so I can focus my energy on the areas where I excel. That's the best strategy I've ever seen work, and so far it's working great for us. Just a word of caution: don't hire until you have to so bad it hurts. Hiring too fast tanks your cash flow, then leads you to have a lot of unpleasant conversations. We've been lucky that it's never come to that here, but I've seen too many entrepreneurs make this mistake along the way.
People say that at the end of the day, being the head of a startup is lonely because you don’t have someone to actually relate to. Do you feel that is true? Why?
Absolutely not. Greenville is full of entrepreneurs. We're certainly busy, but also don't avoid spending time with peers. Get engaged in some entrepreneurial groups (like Brickyard!) and connect with fellow start-up leaders. If you try to do it all alone, sure, it gets lonely. That's the beauty of being in a city with so many startups (past and present): there are plenty of colleagues who can relate to where you are, and often offer a helping hand with your current challenge.
What is the one company that you wanted to start, but never did?
As an idea person, there's a long list. What I've come to embrace is the "Not Now, Maybe Later" philosophy. It's hard to just say no to great ideas, but the timing needs to be good. Focus is vital for entrepreneurs to have, otherwise what we create will not sustain. Like many entrepreneurs, I have lots of ideas - but in order to keep what I have started in good shape, I have to tell myself, "Not Now on that idea... but maybe later."
What is the worst part of starting your own business?
Nobody has a responsibility to pay you except for yourself. When you take a job somewhere, you have a reasonable expectation for that "somewhere" to give you a regular paycheck. When you go out on your own, that responsibility is yours and yours alone. There's a seemingly limitless upside, for sure, but there is also the risk that you're down to your last dollar in the checking account. If you constantly find yourself in this position, you likely need to reconsider some things. But even in the short term, it's a funky position to find yourself if you've gotten used to a steady payday.